Anasthasia Shilov

What do Logic, AOC and my 7-year-old nephew have in common? 

Answer: They’ve all played Among Us. And now, I have, too.

You’ve probably played the game or seen its memes. Between four and 10 players are dropped into a space-themed location and privately designated “crewmate” or “impostor.” Crewmates scramble to complete tasks and root out one or multiple impostors, who aim to kill the crewmates. With a plurality vote, players can be ejected.

I’m convinced one of the key reasons I survived middle school is that I swore off video games. I was an awkward, scrawny theater kid, so I logged onto Club Penguin once a year, maybe, for a nostalgic sled race down Ski Hill. I figured Darwinian evolutionary theory would have something to say about video games being maladaptive for a sixth grader trying to avoid getting his chair pulled out from beneath him at the lunch table.

Never in my life did I think I’d be the one to evoke such cafeteria pandemonium.

But recently, I’ve been calling emergency meetings in a virtual cafeteria where I declare 3-foot-6-inch blobs “sus.” In fact, I’ve been doing all kinds of strange things as I play Among Us: fixing lights, shooting asteroids and cleaning O2 filters on a spaceship.

It didn’t take a rocket engine to thrust me into the world of gaming; I stumbled upon the game on a YouTube livestream. Intrigued, I downloaded the app and joined a server after naming myself “jiggles,” a nickname I’d earned in sixth grade during a name game icebreaker. The name felt akin to a popular online gaming alias, like Ninja and Jacksepticeye.

But my cool moniker didn’t make me any better of a crewmate. Plopped onto a spaceship, I ran in circles with a plunger on my head clicking everywhere on my screen, hoping to activate an information tab or something that would explain how the game worked. Amid my frenzy, I witnessed my own untimely death. My face was pierced by a cyan blob’s pointed tongue, and I became a ghost.

Sure, I didn’t understand how it happened or what I’d done to get stabbed, but I knew that’s not how I wanted to go out. Thirty seconds of intergalactic exploration didn’t feel fair. If I was going to die today, I should be given the chance to do something that makes a difference. And hopefully be wearing something cute.

I may have been impaled, but I wasn’t going to let the game put a fork in me. I played a few more games, revealing my crewmate or impostor assignment in the chat and asking what it meant until I gathered enough information to make sense of the game.

I quickly realized completing tasks would be crucial to saving me and my crewmates. I learned to be aware of my sight lines when fixing wiring in Electrical and to take advantage of scanning in MedBay to prove my innocence as a crewmate. Over the next few games, my contributions to the common good were undeniable; I was a model crewmate.

I flaunted my ‘model’ status through my fit, too: I customized my character to be a pink blob sporting a caution sign as a hat sure to leave my fellow crewmates agog.

Feeling good about myself, I wondered if any of my crewmates would be interested in taking our relationship to the next level: internet friendship. I figured they might. I’d bonded considerably with my fellow players enough over the past hour. We’d collectively decided purple was trolling and should be ignored, and we’d each been murdered several times. We even formed alliances through the chat: Mine was with an orange blob named eatchicken. We vowed to never kill one another, and we didn’t: It was true comradeship. I gave my new poultry-loving pal and everyone else my TikTok handle, and immediately my app crashed. I thought I’d lost them forever, but a half-hour later, I received a new comment on one of my videos that read, “JIGGLES ITS MEEEE EATCHICKEN!!!!!” I couldn’t believe it.

Though our friendship may be short-lived, I can’t say the same about the game. Forest Willard, programmer and business lead at Inner Sloth, the company who develops Among Us, revealed on Twitter that the game had surpassed 60 million daily active users and 100 million downloads by late September.

For a small indie game developer, those numbers are impressive. They’re corroborated by the frequency of Among Us nights in my extracurriculars and friend groups. Even my 7-year-old nephew Logan plays, and he’s devoted himself to killing me first every time he’s the impostor. I’ve lost some interest in the game since realizing the chat could be filled with other anonymous elementary school students, but I still play from time to time — it’s become a fun way for me and Logan to spend time together when we’re physically distant.

I’d had my fun on the game, but I couldn’t reason why the game was as popular as it was. It certainly didn’t compare to Club Penguin. I wondered if I would have to keep playing the game to stay socially adept, and for how long? So, I reached out to experts: Yale gamers.

Jeffrey Zhou ’21, co-president of Yale Undergraduate Esports Club, attributed the game’s recent popularity to the pandemic.

“It’s a pretty casual game to connect people who are physically distanced,” he said. “Because the game is so simple and accessible, it’s spread to non-gamers as well. It’s one of the most popular games on our Discord server.”

Daniel Chenevert ’21 — who organized the club’s Super Smash Bros. events before the pandemic — added, “Everyone’s gaming more in general during the pandemic, but I think social deduction games like this are in an especially advantageous position in that they appeal to a more casual crowd and offer an experience that people don’t usually get in gaming.”

They both agreed that the game will likely continue to be popular for the near future, at least until the end of the pandemic, as a convenient way to bring people together.

I’ve enjoyed my stint as a gamer, but I don’t see myself playing Among Us for much longer. But that’s okay. I have a new task to complete: studying for finals.

Jacob Cramer | jacob.cramer@yale.edu